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Posts Tagged ‘Jean-Luc Godard’

Band Of Outsiders (1964)

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders (Bande à part, 1964) finds the director in an unusually playful mood; this black and white feature is from Godard’s early period, and is a combination of sketches and improvisations, loosely wound around a thin narrative thread.

The gif above is of Arthur (Claude Brasseur), Odile (Anna Karina) and Franz (Sami Frey) doing “The Madison,” a dance sequence that sort of “interrupts” the film — which is very free form in any event — for no particular reason at all, other than the audience’s enjoyment.

As Any Taubin famously noted, “Band of Outsiders is the Godard film for people who don’t much care for Godard: a proto-slacker mood piece about two nondescript guys trying to persuade a beautiful girl to help them commit a robbery. Adapted from Dolores Hitchens’s Fools’ Gold, an American ’50s crime novel published in France as part of the pulp Série Noire, it’s more [Jean] Renoir than [Samuel] Fuller—the least preoccupied with American culture of any of Godard’s ’60s films [. . .]

Godard’s adaptation vacuums the novel of its predictable character psychology and plot twists, leaving only the most minimal narrative. In between the play-acted and the real shooting, the film kills time with a series of set pieces: the celebrated mad dash through the Louvre [. . .] and of course, there’s the sequence where Odile, Franz, and Arthur dance the Madison in a half-empty café (the sequence that both Quentin Tarantino and Hal Hartley fell in love with and borrowed for their own films).”

You can view the dance sequence from Band of Outsiders here, or by clicking on the image above.

Contempt (Le Mépris, 1963)

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Has there ever been a more beautiful, more tragic film than Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (1963)? If so, I can’t think of one offhand. It’s also one of the most trenchant examinations of a relationship in collapse, as well as offering a behind-the-scenes look at the mechanics of filmmaking, featuring no less a personage than director Fritz Lang as himself, trying to make an intelligent film adaptation of The Odyssey, despite the continual interference of his distinctly unpleasant producer, Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance).

Seeking a more commercial approach to the material, Prokosch hires screenwriter Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) to do a rewrite. Accepting the assignment, Paul loses the affection of his wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot), who realizes that he is selling out, simply to make cash on a project which has no artistic integrity. As for his part, Lang refuses to take sides on any of this, and watches as the film, and the marriage, both slide toward the abyss. He’s seen it all before. All of this is set to a compelling, ravishingly romantic musical score by composer Georges Delerue.

Some have critiqued the film recently for its basic plot premise, calling the idea of “selling out” antiquated — after all, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do these days, sell out to the highest bidder? Maybe not, suggests Godard, who even today, continues to make deeply personal and idiosyncratic films designed only to satisfy his own needs and desires, and still finds an audience for them, nonetheless — perhaps “selling out” is just as undesirable as it always has been, a recipe for artistic and personal bankruptcy.

The Limits of the Image

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Here’s an image by Michelle Lyles from the web, which she titled “God had some fun painting the clouds this morning,” which is stunningly beautiful. But it got me thinking about the limits of the image, and what it can and can’t express. As transcendent and Wordsworthian as this image is, it can’t convey the experience of witnessing this morning sky firsthand. Jean-Luc Godard’s oft-quoted maxim “it isn’t a just image; it’s just an image” is part of what I’m getting at here, but what really is at stake is the essence of the image, and what it really represents.

As film critics, theorists, and historians, we are obsessed with images, and continually deconstruct them as part of our daily work. Yet in the end, the image above is simply a series of pixels and color tones on a screen, possessing only a phantom existence, which it would have even if it were fixed on paper as an analogue photograph.

André Bazin commented that if one looked intently at an object with a  camera, one might be able to document the essence of that which was being photographed. But in reality, all one comes away with is a portion of the experience, an aide de memoire to remind one of the experience, but not contain it. I’m curiously suspicious of the power of the image to sway us emotionally, or to allow us to drift into sentiment; it asks the viewer to be transported to another space or time, and yet the experience of that moment remains beyond authentic recall.

Perhaps this is why I have so few photos of vacations, family members, and the like, and have only been photographed a few times; images always fail, always interpret, always deceive by their very nature. The nature of the cinema is illusion, and the nature of illusion is to make that which is not real seem actual. But it isn’t. It isn’t even “just an image.” It’s a deception — something designed to evoke a certain response, or randomly executed by chance. It’s only a talisman of the real, and possesses no reality of its own.

Alphaville (1965)

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

“No one has ever lived in the past. No one will ever live in the future. The present is the form of all life.” – the super computer Alpha 60, in Godard’s Alphaville

Jean Luc-Godard’s Alphaville (1965) is one of the most effective visions of a Dystopian future every created for the screen. Working with American-born French cult actor Eddie Constantine, Godard crafted a science-fiction narrative of the future, working in then-contemporary Paris, shooting mostly at night with available light, as he tells the story of Alpha 60, a gigantic computer than controls the zombified citizens of Alphaville, a futuristic metropolis in a distant constellation in interstellar space. Constantine plays Lemmy Caution, a tough-as nails secret agent, whom he had also portrayed in a series of crime thrillers to diminishing returns before he teamed up with Godard.

Caution has been sent to Alphaville to destroy Alpha 60, free the citizens from its control, and rescue the beautiful Natacha von Braun (Anna Karina), the daughter of Professor von Braun, aka Leonard Nosferatu (Howard Vernon), the creator of Alpha 60. Lemmy accomplishes all of this in his usual tough guy fashion, while simultaneously matching wits with Alpha 60 in a philosophical battle of the wills.

Alpha 60: “What is your secret? Tell me, Mr. Caution.”

Caution: “Something which never changes, day or night. The past represents its future. It advances in a straight line, yet it ends by coming full circle.”

Everything about Alphaville is corrupt; women are exhibited as objects for purchase, vending machines dispense cards saying “Thank You” in return for a franc (or “nothing for something”), and anyone in Alphaville who displays the slightest bit of emotion is immediately sentenced to death. Shooting in crisp black and white with his signature cameraman, Raoul Coutard, on a budget of roughly $100,000, Godard transforms images of Paris at night into a hellish depiction of the future, when no one cares about anything anymore, and hope, love and faith have been forgotten.

Here’s the trailer, which is typically Godardian. If you haven’t seen the film, click on the image below now; this is proof that a sharp, cold, and superbly calculated vision of the future can be accomplished with a few actors, existing cityscapes, and an imagination which was, at the time, boundless.

Alphaville: one of the great Dystopian classics of the cinema.


Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona

It’s somewhat scandalous that I haven’t written a line on Ingmar Bergman yet, except to note that when his film The Touch failed at the box-office, and he found it impossible to get American distribution for his next project, that producer/director Roger Corman came to his rescue with partial financing and American distribution for Cries and Whispers. So, here’s a word or two in praise of Persona, perhaps my favorite of all of Bergman’s films, although I am partial some of the early work, especially Wild Strawberries.

Persona represented a huge leap forward for Bergman, who came from the theater, and for most of his life, would direct a theatrical production in Sweden each winter, and then venture forth with his stock company of actors and technicians to shoot a film every spring. Persona was to have been shot in the studio, but it almost immediately became apparent that this arrangement wasn’t working out, and so Bergman transported his crew and his actors — the two key actors are Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman — to his summer house on the island of Fårö, where his own house, as well as several local buildings, were used for the shooting,

What sets Persona apart from Bergman’s earlier work is its lack of theatricality; its austere sculptural presence; its plastic uses of the possibilities of the moving image, as when the film rips, or falls out of focus, or freezes; and especially the film’s hyper-edited, deeply self-reflexive introduction, in which Bergman conducts a whirlwind metaphorical tour of his imagistic past.

The set-ups in the film are flat, spare, and striking, and the overall embrace of aberrant, jarring cinematic devices reminds one inescapably of mid-60s Godard, especially with regard to Bergman’s lighting, sets, and his use of uncharacteristically long takes, using a static set-up to record minutes of action at a clip.

Bergman, however, publicly stated that he thought little of Godard’s work, commenting on one occasion that: “in this profession, I always admire people who are going on, who have a sort of idea and, however crazy it is, are putting it through; they are putting people and things together, and they make something. I always admire this. But I can’t see his pictures. I sit for perhaps twenty-five or thirty or fifty minutes and then I have to leave, because his pictures make me so nervous. I have the feeling the whole time that he wants to tell me things, but I don’t understand what it is, and sometimes I have the feeling that he’s bluffing, double-crossing me.”

This dislike became even more pronounced as Godard’s career progressed, when Bergman fulminated that “I’ve never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a [. . .] bore. He’s made his films for the critics. One of the movies, Masculin/ féminin, was shot here in Sweden. It was mindnumbingly boring.”

But when I first saw Persona, in a screening I will never forget at the Garden Theater in Princeton, NJ, when it was first released (after being awake for some 36 hours working on films and various other projects), although I was dead tired, the film immediately jolted me awake, because it seemed to reflect the influence of no one so much as Godard, in framing, in style, in structure — in every respect.

Bergman’s usually dark and forbidding lighting, his rococo frames, overstuffed with suffocating bric-a-brac — quite intentionally, for many of his earlier films were period pieces  — were now cleared away, and the result was that the actors were in the foreground, rather than their surroundings; they created the world they existed in, rather than having it created for them by the sets and costumes. With Persona, Bergman entered the modern world.

Even Cries and Whispers, despite its enormous commercial success, seemed a throwback to Bergman’s earlier films, as if were escaping back to his childhood, and certainly the same can be said of his last films, especially the obviously semi-autobiographical Fanny and Alexander, which to me, at least, was a ponderous bore. Persona, on the other hand, was fresh and new, and I remember thinking, with great force, how much Bergman had absorbed the philosophical and stylistic influence of the French New Wave filmmakers, especially Godard, who shares with Bergman a somewhat cold and unforgiving vision of the world, though Bergman, in his last years, seemed to become increasingly sentimental.

So, what can I say — I think Bergman protests too much. Persona is obviously indebted to Godard, and to the breakdown of cinematic tradition that personified the 1960s, whether he knew it, or admitted it, or not.

Here’s Susan Sontag’s take on the film; see what you think.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at or

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